CCHD Responds to Its Critics and Chicago Responds to Its Own

Deal W. Hudson
November 18, 2009

With its annual collection coming up this Sunday, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is fighting back against the organized effort encouraging Catholics to ignore the collection.

CCHD’s woes began last year when its grants to ACORN were terminated following the allegations of voter fraud and embezzlement brought against them during the 2008 election.

Since then, a growing number of other CCHD grantees have been found to advocate either abortion or same-sex marriage – or both. Rob Gaspar of Bellarmine Veritas MinistryStephanie Block of the Catholic Media Coalition, American Life League, and Human Life International have published damaging evidence about many grantees and are leading an effort to boycott the collection.

The organization has not been unresponsive to the criticism. Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the CCHD, published a memo to all the bishops on October 2 about Bellarmine Veritas Ministry’s investigation. CCHD’s internal investigation resulted in the defunding of two organizations (one had already been defunded), while two others were exonerated.

Bishop Morin also offered his fellow bishops the assurance “that the CCHD Subcommittee and staff take seriously any allegation that groups we fund are not in compliance with Catholic teaching or are participating in a partisan political activity.”

Last November, Bishop Morin published a report formally announcing the end to all ACORN funding, “because of serious concerns about financial accountability, organizational performance, and political partisanship.” In addition, Bishop Morin promised an ongoing investigation by “specialists in forensic accounting to help determine if any CCHD money was taken or misused.”

A sign of the growing discontent with CCHD is the furor that arose in response to a letter signed by the group’s director in the Archdiocese of Chicago, published on October 13 by Matt Abbott at RenewAmerica.com. The letter, signed Rey Flores, accused “certain groups” of having “motivations and objectives [that] are rooted in partisan politics, rather than faithfulness to Catholic teaching and concern for the poor.”

The comparison between ACORN’s involvement in voter fraud, currently being investigated in 13 states, and the pro-life organizations criticizing CCHD seemed so preposterous, I emailed Flores and asked him: Given that a pro-life, pro-family position taken by Catholic activists appears to conform more to the GOP platform than that of the Democrats, is it fair to assume their motivation is partisan – that is, to benefit the Republican Party?

Within a few hours, I received a call from Nicholas Lund-Molfese, director of the Office of Peace and Justice, who supervises Flores. Lund-Molfese, a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, was apologetic and took full responsibility:

“This letter,” he told me, “was never intended as a public statement – it was an email sent to a small group of local Catholics who had been faithful supporters of CCHD.”

Lund-Molfese admits the letter was sent because he and his staff were worried about the impact of the boycott on the collection and “the impact a significant drop would have on the reforms we are trying to make here at CCHD.” When the letter became public, he immediately called American Life League to apologize for what looked like criticism of their organization. He reiterated, “I regret that sincere and longstanding pro-life organizations, known to all, think our words were aimed at them. We know they are not motivated by partisanship but by love for the truth, even though we may have differences.”

In fact, the letter was written in response to many contentious e-mails sent to Francis Cardinal George and the CCHD, as well as personal comments that Lund-Molfese characterized as both hateful and untrue. “We’ve been accused of funding everything from prostitution to homosexual acts.”

Some of the e-mails mentioned the cardinal’s position on immigration; many more complained about the fact that a group of parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago hired Barack Obama to do community organizing for them some 20 years ago. Lund-Molfese sees no reason to defend programs that were funded before either he or Cardinal George started their work in Chicago.

When I asked Lund-Molfese why the letter was so sharply worded, he replied, “I think it is a fair response to some people in the Archdiocese of Chicago who has contacted Cardinal George or our office, but not appropriate to any of the CCHD critics.” However, Lund-Molfese admits it was a mistake to send it, regardless of his good intentions.

When I asked him to talk more about the reforms underway at CCHD in Chicago, he explained that he had all the staff read Caritas in Veritate and discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s concept of human development and how it relates to “what CCHD does and doesn’t do, knowing that it first and foremost is pro-life.”

Lund-Molfese hopes to fund pro-life advocacy in Chicago and has solicited organizations to apply for grants. One crisis pregnancy center, however, replied they did not want to apply for a CCHD grant, because some board members considered it “tainted money.”

That a pro-life organization would actually turn down grant money is indicative of the problem faced not only by Lund-Molfese but by CCHD throughout the country and at the USCCB. Bishop Morin appears to be taking serious steps toward reforming the organization at the national level, but it may be a long time before the trust of many Catholics is restored.

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